LANL Receives Fifth Cleanup Violation in Four Months

LANL Receives Fifth Cleanup Violation in Four Months

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) inappropriately mixed hazardous waste and demolition waste, during clean up and remediation. They now face a maximum fine of $2.3 million, for violations of state hazardous waste laws. This is the fifth violation LANL has received in the past four months from the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED).

NMED's Hazardous Waste Bureau cited LANL for inappropriately mixing the waste during the demolition of buildings and infrastructure at Technical Area 16 (TA-16). TA-16 is where high explosives are developed and tested. It is also the location of open detonation experiments where depleted uranium and high explosives are exploded into the open air. TA-16 is located in the southwestern corner of LANL grounds and is bordered by the Santa Fe National Forest to the west and Bandelier National Monument to the south.

Over its 50-year life span, hundreds of millions of pounds of high explosives were processed at TA-16. An open drainpipe dumped water contaminated with barium and RDX, into canyons which flow to the Rio Grande. RDX is a high explosive, which when ingested is known to cause tremors and convulsions leading to death. Investigations found RDX from the dumping downstream and in the regional aquifer below the site. While remediating the site, LANL mixed hazardous waste from the drainpipes with demolition waste. The debris pile is 8,000 cubic yards, or about five Olympic sized swimming pools. Only about 20 cubic yards of the waste in the pile was hazardous waste, by NMED's account, but because they were mixed the whole pile is now considered hazardous. The entire debris pile was later moved to Sigma Mesa where it was dumped on the bare ground. LANL spokesman, James Rickman, stated that they sampled to confirm that "nothing harmful was released."

NMED Secretary Ron Curry, said, "Lab managers seemed to ignore clear permitting and monitoring requirements in this case. Violations such as these seem to reveal a lack of respect for state laws written to protect the health of New Mexican's and their environment. In addition it's not [LANL's] prerogative to make the determination of whether the waste is endangering the health of citizens or the environment."

LANL is facing a maximum fine of $2.3 million because their actions were in violation of state laws. NMED Communications Director, Marissa Stone, said, "Obviously, [LANL] will have the opportunity to negotiate a settlement with the state."

Activists are pleased that NMED is holding LANL accountable by issuing the recent violations. In the past four months LANL has received four other violations for their environmental practices. In July, LANL was issued a violation for shipping potentially hazardous waste to the Los Alamos County Landfill. LANL has been cited twice for failure to cleanup an old ashpile at the Los Alamos Airport. In September, LANL was issued a violation for failing to report chromium contamination found in ground water characterization wells.

Joni Arends, of CCNS, said "Citizens welcome NMED flexing its regulatory muscle. As Bechtel further cuts environmental programs, continuing this precedent will ensure protection of public and environmental health."

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